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Disclaimer: The characters that appear on the show Xena Warrior Princess (Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Salmoneus, & others made mention of from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules, Iolaus & Autolycus) are the copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters and the original story idea, are my own and I reserve the rights to them. If you like some of my original characters and would like to use them in one of your stories, that would be great, but please do not do so without my permission. This story was written for the sheer joy of creating a story that everyone could enjoy and because I am a big fan of Xena Warrior Princess, but mostly it was written for my sister, Sam, who is an even bigger fan than I am.
Content: Could be classified as a Hurt/Comfort story. Moderate language. The story centers around a war/battle and does contain what some may consider extreme violence (PG-13), but it is not described in graphic detail. There is a level of subtext in this story, but I’ve tried to be as faithful to the series as possible, so there is no more subtext than what you would see on the show.
Spoiler Warning: Takes place between "The Debt I & II" and "Maternal Instincts" episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. You may want to watch the "The Deliverer," "Gabrielle’s Hope" and "The Debt I & II" episodes if you have not already seen them, since several aspects of these episodes are directly dealt with.
Acknowledgements: This story would never have been possible without the help of my sister, Sam, whose thankless job (at least, that’s what she thinks) it was to advise me in the ways of the Xenaverse. Since I am not as well scripted as she in all those simple little quirks of Xena and Gabrielle’s, she chose to stick her nose in and nit-pick my entire story. But, if truth be told, if Ididn’t have her to nit-pick my story, to urge me on and to be there when I call late at night just to ask: "Sam, does this sound right?" "Sam, do you think Xena would do this?", I wouldn’t have a story to begin with. So, I need to take a moment here just to say: "Thanks, Sam." I would also like to thank my Dad, who is an excellent writer in his own right, for his great editing work and ideas that really pulled my story together and made it work.
I would love to hear from all Xena fans out there and am willing to take a little objective criticism, but please take into consideration that I am quite fragile and could crack under pressure. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)|
By Jennifer Lawson
Part I: Xena Warrior PrincessSoulmates
i’m going hunting
i’m the hunter
i’ll bring back the goods
-- "Hunter", Bjork
When All’s Said and Done…
Hours had passed since Salmoneus had last seen General Greeger. Since then, he’d helped the soldiers in preparing a defense in case any of Gaelen’s warriors were to make it through the tunnel. Well, oversee is more the term, perhaps, since the soldiers did all the work. Salmoneus, with help from his new found friend, little Kyleus and with the help of High Magistrate Nallos, had assisted in keeping the crowds of people out of the way as the soldiers worked.
They arranged for one guard to keep watch on the tunnel’s exit, while the other soldiers worked on a way to plug up the tunnel hole for protection. They didn’t have much to work with save a large log stump they hoped would suffice as a plug. But, until such time as it was needed, they covered the hole with heavy tree branches and stones.
That evening, Salmoneus paced nervously just inside the cave’s entrance, looking off into the distance with worried eyes. Several of the soldiers had left the relative safety of the cave to see if they could spy on the village and get some idea of what was happening. Even from that distance, Salmoneus could hear the sounds of war. There was a bright orange light off in the distance, which he felt could only be fire. If he tried hard enough, he could smell smoke. He worried incessantly for Gabrielle and Salea’s safety, and his mind kept returning to the fact that Xena never returned from her mission. It could only mean that she had not been successful at stopping Gaelen’s army. It could even mean …. nNo, he didn’t even want to think about it. Much better to believe she had come up with some other plan. Maybe she had gone for help once she noticed the insurmountable odds against her, and was even now planning a counterattack. It was a good story, one for the scrolls. Salmoneus only hoped it was true.
"Hey, what’s the matter with you?" someone said behind him. Salmoneus jumped and spun around to find Kyleus, arms akimbo displaying his childish power.
"Awh, kid! Don’t sneak up on me like that!" he said holding his heart. "You should be asleep anyway. Why aren’t you with your mother?"
"I wanted to come see you."
"Well, you can come see me inside." He turned the boy around and walked back inside the cave. "Come on. You shouldn’t be out here., Iit’s dangerous out here."
He stopped when he heard someone approaching and eyed the direction of the sound with widening eyes. To his relief, though, it was only the soldiers returning from their scouting mission.
"So, what’s happening over there?" he inquired hopefully.
"What do you think’s happening over there, old man?" one soldier said. . Salmoneus scornfully mouthed the words ‘Old man?’ but the soldier didn’t give him time to protest. "It’s all out war. Our men are getting slaughtered over there while we baby-sit."
"Hey, you!" little Kyleus said looking up at the soldier. "You better watch out how you talk to Salmoneus. He’s bigger and tougher than you and he said he can beat you up."
Not at all intimidated by the child, the soldier did turn a serious eye toward Salmoneus, who was laughing nervously. "Oh, really?" he asked in a challenging tone.
"Kids," Salmoneus said, displaying his famous weak smile. "They say the darndest things." Always quick with words, Salmoneus suddenly had an inspiration. "Oooh, that’s a good idea. It could be a traveling show. At each village you stop, pick a group of kids, ask’emask ‘em questions and get’em to say ‘the darndest things’. It’s comedy! People would pay to see that!" In another sudden brainstorm he said, "Especially if it’s their children! I love it! They’ll love it! This is the best…."
"Awh, save it, old man!" the soldier said forgetting all about the insult. "People paying to hear own kids talk! They listen to that all day long as it is. What makes you think they’d hand over their dinars to hear more of it."
"You’re underestimating a proud parent, sir. What might irritate them at home will make them beam with pride if it impresses someone else."
"Well, I’d have to see it to believe it."
"Ah, your probably right," Salmoneus agreed. Experience had told him that it was a waste of time to try selling anything to someone with a closed mine. "Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted," he said, storing the idea in his mind for a later time, at least relieved that it had deflected the soldier’s attention away from Kyleus’ cute little comment.
At that moment, loud voices could be heard from the back of the cave, startling all the sleeping families. Not completely sure of what was happening they began to stumble about checking on their families and mumbling nervously.
"It’s the bad guys, again!" the fearless Kyleus said trying to run in that direction.
But, this time Salmoneus grabbed him and picked him up. "Oh no, you don’t. Not this time." The soldier that had been talking with Salmoneus quickly ran to the back of the cave. Salmoneus followed close behind him, but not so fearful because he recognized the gruff voice of General Greeger. . The soldiers were removing the last couple of branches from the opening to the tunnel when they arrived. To his relief, the first head Salmoneus saw poke from the hole was Salea’s. He put little Kyleus down and called out to her, "Salea!" She stepped out of the tunnel and into his arms. "I’m glad you’re okay," he said. Salea clung to him in desperation but said nothing. That was not like her. Leaning back he looked into her face. The bright and cheery Salea that he knew was not to be found. Her face was gaunt and tired, and there was a nasty wound on her forehead. "Are you all right? What’s wrong?" he implored of her, but again she didn’t answer. She simply lowered her head onto Salmoneus’ shoulder and started to cry.
Greeger was the next one out of the tunnel, followed by the rest of his soldiers. Even in the dark Salmoneus could see the deep scowl on his face. When he saw Salea crying on Salmoneus’ shoulder, his scowl grew.
The soldier who had been speaking to Salmoneus asked, "What happened, sir?"
Anger and frustration crease the General’s face as he turned to the hapless soldier who was wishing he’d kept his mouth shut. "What do you think happened, soldier?" It was the same question Salmoneus had asked and he had given much the same response. Now, he was on the receiving end.
"We lost!" the General growled. "They trampled over our army like we weren’t even there! They broke through every defense! They killed almost every man! And they completely destroyed Phestia!!! You might as well take it off the maps."
Salmoneus on the other hand had another concern. "Where’s Gabrielle?" he asked Salea, but she could not look up or respond.
"She’s dead!" Greeger shouted in anger, his voice echoing across the cave. He turned from the soldier to the owner of the other voice he heard and only then did he realize who it was he’d hollered at.
"Dead?" Salmoneus said dumbfounded, his mind not comprehending those two simple words.
As he stared at Salmoneus’ shocked face, Greeger understood the reason for his anger and frustration, and why he’d spoken so harshly and so quickly without thinking. It was Gabrielle’s death. He hadn’t realized how much her loss meant to him until that very moment. He only wished he could take back his angry outburst. Looking past Salmoneus, he looked around at the faces of the people that he’d told only hours ago ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be ready for them.’ He saw the hope and trust drain from their faces. Their beloved city was destroyed and on the day of the festival. He could see the questions in their eyes. Where would they go? What would they do? How would they take care of their families? Greeger lowered his head in shame. He had failed to protect his city.
Suddenly, Salmoneus’ legs would no longer hold him and Salea had to help him find a place to sit. She tried to comfort him despite her own pain, but they ended up crying together. "Gabrielle can’t be dead. She just can’t…" he sobbed.
"She is," Greeger said, sadly. "I watched her fall from the wall."
Salmoneus’ face crumbled and fell into his hands as he began to sob. Little Kyleus came up to him and patted him on the back. "Don’t cry, Salmoneus. It’ll be okay," he said in his simple childish logic.
High Magistrate Nallos walked up to Greeger, who’swhose head was still lowered in shame, and laid a hand on his shoulder. . "The city is gone." Nallos didn’t question Greeger’s word. If he said it, it had to be a statement of fact.
Looking haggard and dejected, Greeger reported in a low voice, "They were burning Phestia to ashes as we escaped. We barely made it. I’m sorry, High Magistrate. I failed the people."
"No, you didn’t," Nallos said, gripping the General’s shoulder tightly in a show of confidence. "You saved them. Look at all the people who are alive because you listened to the warnings. I did not. If I had had things my way, all these good people would be burning with the city. Our lives are more important than Phestia. Phestia we can rebuild. When a life is gone, it is gone for good."
Nallos’ words calmed the General some, but nothing could lift the weight of this great loss. Not to mention Gabrielle, a person he hadn’t had time to get to know very well, but had respected and admired. He felt like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Yet, as much as he hated to drop more terror on these poor people’s heads, the night’s fighting was not over. There was still the platoon Gaelen had sent out that had to be dealt with.
"Well, it’s not over yet. We still have a problem."
"Oh?" Nallos said, concern in his voice. "What problem is that?"
Greeger rounded up the rest of his soldiers, about thirty men, and gathered them in a crowd before Nallos and himself for a briefing. Salea and Salmoneus, who were both still looking haggard from the news of Gabrielle’s death, joined in as well. It was a time for action. Mourning would have to take place later.
"Gaelen knows about the caves," Greeger began, drawing dejected responses from the people around him. "I don’t know how he found out but he has sent some men this way to take care of the rest of us. They’re probably headed this way now. The bloodthirsty bastard isn’t satisfied with just torching the city. H he wants everyone dead. I want to get to them, before they get to us. Now, I’ll need to station two of you here in case some sneak by us in the dark…"
"No," Salea said, standing beside the gGeneral. "You’re going to need all the men you can take with you. Salmoneus and I will take care of the sneaky ones."
"We will?" Salmoneus said, skeptically.
Greeger was skeptical as well, his expression making it only too clear. "Only if you’re sure you can handle it," he said seriously. "I don’t want a single one of the those bastards to get in here."
"Hey, rock chunking didn’t hurt me," she said displaying her head wound, and lifted a frying pan from the ashes of an old fire. "I don’t guess a little pan slinging will either." " Salea grinned past her pain of heart. "Now you boys go take care of the bad guys."
Greeger smiled, happy to see that Salea was back to her old butt-kicking self. "Okay, men, the Mistress of the house has spoken. Let’s move!" As difficult as it was to believe, the soldiers laugh as they leave to do battle again.
As they filed out, Salea grabbed Greeger by the arm and looked him in the eye. "Oh, and by the way, my mistress-ing days are over."
Greeger’s serious General-face slowly gave way to a big smile, and he gave in to his feelings momentarily to hug her. "Be careful," he whispered in her ear.
"I’m always careful."
Salmoneus stepped up and cleared his throat. . "Shouldn’t we make sure that no one’s going to get in through there first?" he asked, pointing toward the tunnel.
"No," Greeger responded. "That’s the one good news of the night. The tunnel caved in behind us. Anyone that tried to follow is buried under several feet of rubble." With one quick look in each of Salea’s eyes, Greeger left to follow his soldiers.
"So, now what do we do?" High Magistrate Nallos asked as Greeger and his men disappeared into the night.
Salea eyed him curiously for a few seconds, not sure if he was really talking to her, a prostitute he would not have wasted his spit on earlier in the day. But, he was looking her directly in the eye, waiting for an answer. It took her by surprise and, at first, she didn’t know what she should say.
"Uh…Well," she stammered. "The first thing we need to do is move everyone to the back of the cave. That way, if any of those guys do get in here, they’ll have to go through us before they can get to any of you."
Nallos smiled, patted her on the shoulder and said, "Sounds like a excellent idea. I’ll get started right away."
"All right," she said, amazed. She could scarcely believe it. Nallos’ actually seemed proud of her. After all it had taken to get things done behind his back such a short time ago, now he was so willing to cooperate. As she watched Nallos turn from her to get started, she saw, for the first time, that there were no classes of people here now. It was a shame that it took war to do it, but here it was. The biggest evidence of it was when the High Magistrate had asked the local prostitute what they should do next. She was flabbergasted.
None of them had noticed the small boy that had been listening to the entire conversation. As eager to fight as the soldiers had been, Kyleus said with big bright eyes, "Can I help you fight the bad guys, too?"
Salea looked to Salmoneus questioningly. . "It’s an inside joke," he said with a small smile.
General Greeger and his soldiers traversed through the dark woods with far better ease than did Gaelen’s warriors. They knew these woods like the back of their hands. Many of them played and hunted in them since childhood. That was their first advantage. Their second advantage came from knowing exactly where their adversaries were, because several of them were carrying torches. Greeger figured these warriors were not quite as bright as their commander, so he came up with a plan. Stealthily they moved through the dark woods, slowly encircling their enemy.
The group’s leader, Tameon, stopped in mid-stride, holding up a closed fist that told his warriors to halt. He’d heard a sound—a rustling of bushes, the cracking of twigs. Though he listened for several seconds, no other sound was heard, so he passed it off as an animal or the breeze and continued his warriors’ march to the caves once more.
Greeger was waiting for just such a mistake, when their defenses were down and they expected nothing. He gave the signal for attack and Greeger and his men descended upon the unsuspecting warriors ferociously. Their anger at having lost their city and their fellow soldiers made their attack a deadly one. Outnumbering Gaelen’s men two to one, it didn’t take long to bring their deadly quest to an end. However, in the activity and the darkness, they failed to see two warriors slip past the battle, and fearful of Gaelen, continue, continue to make their way to the caves.
Greeger had said that the other end of the tunnel had caved in, so at Salea’s suggestion, Nallos had moved everyone inside it each one with whatever weapon they could find. Salea and Salmoneus waited on either side of the entrance with frying pans in their hands. Salea was primed and ready to fight. Salmoneus cowered across from her, his frying pan shaking in his hands.
"What are we supposed to do if they come?" he asked, a mite totoo loud.
"Shh. You whack’em over the head, that’s what you do."
"But, what if they get back up?"
"Then, you whack’em again. Salmoneus, don’t be such a chicken. You can do this," she said hoping to give him confidence.
"You’re right. I can do this. I’ve done it before. When it comes to fighting, frying pans are my specialty." He smiled nervously, his attitude belying his confident words. With a shaky sigh, Salmoneus shook his head sadly and said softly to himself, "I sure wish Gabrielle was here." A shuffling behind him caught his attention. It was little Kyleus holding his own frying pan. "What are you doing over here?" Salmoneus whispered angirlyangrily.
"I told you," the" the lad said as if Salmoneus decided not to use his brain today. "I’m gonna help you fight the bad guys."
"Kyleus, you’re going to be the death of me."
Salea shushed them both, pointing outside the cave on their side. Salmoneus’ legs felt like they were turning to jelly, but he kept his cool. He quickly moved Kyleus behind him, slapping a hand over his mouth to make sure he stayed quiet. Fortunately, the little boy was smart enough to understand that one of the "bad guys" was coming and that he had to be very quiet. So, he held his pan up high, ready to do battle. Salmoneus could hear the sound of someone walking through dew covered grass drawing ever closer and closer.
When the approaching warriors realized that they had finally found the entrance to the cave they separated and came at it from different angles. . They moved quietly and before long one warrior was able to look into the darkened cave. , bUnfortunately, heut couldn’t see or hear nothing. Nor could he hear a nything. According to Tameon, who by now was probably dead, there were supposed to be villagers hiding out in these caves, but he could barely see two feet in front of his face let alone a whole slew of frightened villagers. His partner had told him not to light a torch until he was ready for him to follow, but he had no choice. . He mumbled something under his breath and lit the torch. He wasn’t going in that cave if he couldn’t see anything. Once the torch was lit, he shown it inside but still saw nothing, so he took several steps inside sending an eerie, shadowy illumination into the cave.
Putting on his best tough warrior voice, he called out., " Hello? Anybody home?" The next thing he knew, an explosion went off in his head and then there was only blackness.
As he fell, Salmoneus stood over him with a large smile on his face and slightly dented frying pan in his hand. "I did it!" he laughed, Kyleus jumping and mimicking him.
"Check him. Make sure he’s out," Salea said in a loud whisper.
Salmoneus bent over to check him and just as he did a sword swung over his head, burying itself into the cave wall. When he spun around in horror, the torch on the ground illuminated pieces of his hair buried in the wall with the sword. Then, he looked up into the angry face of another warrior. Salmoneus’ eyes rolled back in his head and he fell over.
As the warrior was trying to remove his sword from the cave wall, little Kyleus ran up to him and smashed his knee with his frying pan. The warrior cried out in pain, cursing the child, but his curse was short-lived when Salea’s frying pan landed on top of his head. He fell to the ground, forgetting all about his sword and his knee.
"I did a good job, huh?" Kyleus said, looking up at Salea.
"You sure did, little man!" she said, smiling down at the cute little boy. "You’re the toughest kid I’ve ever seen!"
"Yep, I sure am!" he said proudly, flexing his biceps.
Salea laughed with him, rubbing the top of his head, as Nallos approached them. "Is Salmoneus all right?" he asked with concern.
"He’s fine," Salea responded. "Just passed out. Could you do me a favor?"
"Get a couple of men and tie these two up. I don’t want them getting loose."
"Right. But, be careful. More may come."
Kyleus pulled on Nallos’ skirt as he turned to leave. "Did you see me beat up that bad guy?" he asked, grinning.
"Yes, I saw. You were very brave, young man. Now, come with me. I’ll take you back to your mother."
"But I wanna stay here."
"That’s enough fighting for tonight. Your mother’s worried about you."
"Oh, man!" the lad protested.
Salea smiled as they faded into the darkness, but was serious again as she returned to the task at hand. . Salmoneus had been taken back into the cave with the two warriors, just in case any more happened to sneak in. But, to her relief, the next person she saw was Greeger. He and the rest of the soldiers had come back victorious. She was happy to see the look of defeat gone from his face. But, it was a silent victory. No one would know of it. They were going to be hidden away here for quite some time, before they were sure it was safe enough to go back to the city.
Gabrielle ran as fast as she could up the rocky slope. She held the small bundle in her arms, desperate to get away from her relentless pursuer. If she let the pursuerher catch up to her now, she would realize what she’d done. She couldn’t let her know, not now, not ever. The pursuer called out to her. "Gabrielle! That thing you’re holding is a monster! It has to be destroyed!"
Bounding up with a start, she sat up on the edge of the cot trembling. She could still feel her heart racing. It took a number of long, deep breaths to finally calm herself. She wiped the perspiration from her face, trying to forget that ever-recurring nightmare.
Gabrielle looked up, startled by Gaelen’s voice. He was seated behind a long table with a map spread across it. Obviously, he was preparing for his next attack. The last thing she remembered, he was walking out of the tent to check on ‘his guest’. Gabrielle had told him that she did not want to sleep. Apparently, her body knew what she needed more than she did, but the nightmare had not helped any. .
"Yes," she said sadly.
"They are vile things, aren’t they, nightmares? I’ve noticed that nightmares are only our own inner demons come to haunt us with our mistakes…our regrets…our lies." He stared at her for several seconds, seeing and sensing her inner turmoil. He’d already seen her memory of her daughter Hope and that she’d lied to Xena to protect the child. She’d had nightmares about it before. It wasn’t something she dwelt on often, but when she allowed herself to, it tortured her. Gaelen enjoyed the sensations he received from her. "What do you think?" he asked her.
"I … I don’t know." Gabrielle lowered her eyes, afraid to meet his intense gaze. When he looked at her, she felt vulnerable, open,open and naked, as though all the feelings in her heart were laid bare before him. And even though she was usually a very open person, someone who would talk to you about anything, she didn’t like this feeling that his eyes were probing her very soul.
She was right. Gaelen was probing her soul, her thoughts and her memories. What he found was disconcerting to him. With Xena, even from the first moment he sensed her, hate had seemed to radiate off of her. But, there were no such feelings coming from Gabrielle. He’d told Gabrielle before that he sensed she and Xena were soulmates, but he couldn’t understand their relationship. Xena was a warrior, a killer, whereas Gabrielle was practically an innocent to those ways and, in fact, despised them. Of course, he knew of the one time Gabrielle had shed blood and he could sense that she still carried an immense amount of guilt and remorse in her heart. And he knew of the one time where a complete hatred had filled her heart for the one who had murdered her husband. The same one he’d first seen in Xena’s memories—Callisto. But, what he could not understand, what seemed an impossibility to him, was that Gabrielle felt no anger or hatred towards him. What he sensed from her was…acceptance. She only accepted what was happening around her and knew she couldn’t change it. Intriguing as it was, acceptance That wasn’t what he wanted her to feel. He wanted her to feel hate. The same kind or even worse than the hate she’d felt for Callisto. He knew she was capable. Why wouldn’t she just give in to it?
"Did you see Xena?" she asked, staring at her hands laying in her lap.
"I saw her, yes." Anticipating her next question, he added, "She’s well. Quiet well, in fact. I’ve seen to that." It was not a comforting answer. In fact, it was rather frightening. She didn’t dare ask him what he meant by that, afraid of the answer.
‘No, Gabrielle,’ Gaelen thought, ‘you don’t want to know, Gabrielle.’ He remembered the look on Xena’s face when she snapped the girl’s neck. She had enjoyed it. So had he, but he was still disappointed in his warrior princess. Not long after, she had gone back to her trance-like state and silent chanting. He had not been able to bring her back out of it. So, he had a couple of warriors dump the girl’s body outside the camp. . After a while, he gave up and went back to his tent to find Gabrielle fast asleep and dreaming. During that time, he’d thought about his plans for the morning. If Xena was still in her trance by morning, he might just be angry enough to kill her. He had been working on a plan that involved not only Xena, but Gabrielle as well. All he needed to do to complete the picture was to get Gabrielle to give in to the hatred he knew was inside her, and the stage would be set. However, if Xena was still in her trance, it would ruin everything he had planned.
Gaelen stood and walked around the table to stand in front of Gabrielle. "There’s something I don’t understand about you, Gabrielle. You feel no anger, no hate for me. Why?"
Gabrielle forced herself to look up at him, as confused about his question as he was about her. But, he was right. She hadn’t thought about it until he asked. Strangely, those feeling were not in her. Even in the realization of it, she could not bring herself to hate this killer.
"Should I?" she asked blankly.
"Well, let’s see. I attacked and destroyed the small nomads’ village, killing everything that breathed. Then, I attacked Phestia and stomped Greeger and his men into the ground. I’ve ordered the death of innocent women and children only to show them that they can never escape me. I would think you’d want to see me dead."
"Is that what you want? You want me to hate you?"
"It has nothing to do with what I want. Humans are emotional beings. And I know you’ve felt that kind of hate before."
"How could you know what I’ve felt? You have no idea what its like to have feelings, because you have none. You’re cold and heartless."
"Yes, I am. But, I know hate when I see it and I don’t see it in your eyes. Show me, Gabrielle, the kind of hate you felt when Callisto killed your husband."
Gabrielle’s eyes open wide in shock. How could he have known about that? The look in his eyes made her grow cold with fear.
Slowly, Gaelen brought his face closer to Gabrielle’s as he said, "Tell me, when you watched her sword plunge into his heart and you heard her laugh with pleasure, how did it make you feel?"
She quickly stood up and pushed him back so hard he nearly fell to the ground. "Stop it!" she shouted, but his growing smile stopped her cold. She had played right into his hands and allowed him to manipulate her. She felt herself shaking with rage, and nearly drove her nails into the palms of her hands trying to regain control. "If I feel anger right now, it isn’t towards you! I will always have this anger in me, that will never change."
"You’re right, it is an anger you carry with you, but I brought it to the fore and I can do it again. I know exactly how to turn your feelings against you."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, closed her eyes and Gaelen felt her anger quickly die away. After a moment, she shook her head and looked at him with sad eyes. Gaelen’s smile of pleasure turned into an angry frown when he began to sense pity from Gabrielle .Gabrielle. It sickened him. Of all the emotions he wanted her to feel, pity was the last.
"What happened to you?" she asked.
"What are you talking about?" he asked with a disgusted expression.
"I’m trying to understand what makes you what you are. Something happened to you. No child is born with the evil that’s inside you." " She watched his expression change to sadness. She’d obviously hit a nerve.
He turned his back to her; his voice iwas still cold, but softer now. "I watched my father kill my mother when I was a boy. He would beat the two of us. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t hear my mother scream or feel the back of his hand across my cheek. But, after he killed my mother, I vowed he wouldn’t lay another hand on me. As he lay one night passed out from one of his drunken stupors, I bashed his head in with a sledgehammer."
Gabrielle listened to his story with a sadness of her own. No child should have to grow up like that. It had turned him into the monster he now was. Maybe, just maybe it wasn’t too late for him. "Because of what happened to you as a boy," she said, employing her most skillful tenderness, "you feel you have to hurt others? Why?"
"I’ve killed the bastard everyday since. Every time I kill, I’m killing him again. It’s a release for all my hate and anger. It makes me feel better…for a while."
"That’s the key, Gaelen. The reason it only lasts for a while is because you’re really bottling that hate and anger inside yourself. You’re not really letting it out." Carefully, she touched his arm and turned him to face her. "Let me help you, Gaelen. Things don’t have to be like this."
Gabrielle saw a fleeting emotion, a wanting in his eyes as he gazed intently at her, but his expression suddenly changed and he began to laugh. It was a cold, arrogant laugh thatA cold, arrogant laugh made her back away from him in disgust. It had all been an act. He had successfully toyed with her emotions again.
Through his laughter he said, "Greeger was right. You are gullible." Now, he could feel her anger.
Gabrielle’s eye s were furrowed together in an angry frown, but she decided to press the issue, for what it was worth. "You can laugh and try to hide it all you want to, Gaelen, but I’m not as stupid as you think. I still say, no one is born with evil in their heart. Not even you."
Gaelen stopped laughing and said with patronizing politeness, "Sweet, caring Gabrielle, I do not need nor do I want your pity." " He turned and walked back to his desk.
Gabrielle, however, true to her nature, refused to give up. "You were a boy when it happened, weren’t you? That’s it, isn’t it? Why else would you have mentioned it? You needed a starting point for your little story. What really happened to you?"
He stopped short at the corner of the table, but did not turn around. With a bit of a growl in his voice he said, "If you know what’s good for you, you’ll silence your tongue. Or I’ll cut it out for you."
"Was it really your mother who was killed? Or was it your father? Maybe it was both."
Just as the words left her mouth, Gaelen spun on her. In a flash, one hand grabbed a wad of her hair and the other fiercely gripped her throat. The adrenaline was pumping in him and it took everything he had not to choke the life out of her. . He had the ability, the opportunity and the desire to use his powers on her, but strangely he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Opposing emotions unfamiliar to him were raging inside. It disgusted him to feel weak.
Gabrielle could feel the pressure of his hand closing around her throat. She could not breathe. She looked at the cold hatred in his dark eyes and for the first time since she’d met him, she was afraid for her life.
"A little pressure is all it would take for me to destroy your vocal chords," he snarled. "You’d never speak again. A little more pressure and you’d never breathe again."
Even though he had promised Gabrielle that he wouldn’t hurt her, she could tell that he was on the verge of choking her to death. Gaelen’s seething face was curling into an angry sneer. Then, just as suddenly as he attacked her, he let her go and shoved her to the ground. She coughed and choked, resting her forehead on the ground as she massaged her bruised throat.
Gaelen turned from her once again, trying to calm himself. The girl was good; he had to give her that. She’d taken his own tactic and used it against him. Though he would never admit it to her, Gabrielle had come closer to the truth about him than anyone. She was a lot smarter than he originally took her to be. Smarter than Xena, anyway. She was not as susceptible to manipulation as Xena had been. There was something about her that was different. She saw people differently from the way Xena did. Xena saw people in black and white, good and evil. To Gabrielle people were different shades, different colors and there were varying degrees of good and of evil in people. It was almost as if she had sensing abilities like his own, though he knew better. She could read people like a book…or in her case, a scroll. Maybe I should shut up while I’m ahead, Gaelen thought. I sound like I’m starting to respect her.
Behind him, Gaelen heard Gabrielle rise to her feet. He felt fear from her, but underneath it was a trace of guilt. Guilt of what? he asked himself. Then it came to him … Gabrielle felt guilt for goading him into anger, forcing him to feel things he didn’t want to feel. But, aA thought came from her mind to him as clearly as if she had spoken it. ‘At least now heyou understands how I felt.,’’ was Gabrielle’s thought. He turned to respond to that feeble attempt to cover up her guilt, when he heard the sound of horses. It was the men returning to camp. Just seconds later, there was a voice at the entrance to the tent. "It’s Barleus, sir. May I come in?"
Quickly, Gaelen grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and moved her back to her sitting position on the cot. He gave her one good threatening glance before calling Barleus in. Barleus entered the tent, glancing at Gabrielle briefly before standing at attention before his commander. In that small glance, he noticed the bruise around her neck. There had obviously been some sort altercation, but he wasn’t on such friendly terms with Gaelen to just ask. So, he put it out of his mind.
"I’m assuming you’ve come with a report," Gaelen said, taking his place behind his table.
"Yes, sir. Phestia is destroyed. The men took what they wanted and we burned the rest, just as you commanded."
"And what of the rest of the villagers?"
"On your orders, sir, I sent Tameon with a platoon of men to take care of them. I haven’t heard from them yet, but I believe they should be returning soon. I can give you a full report on that when they do. And you’ll be pleased to know, sir, that General Greeger and the rest of his soldiers are dead."
Gabrielle was shocked to hear this, but tried not to let it show. According to what Gaelen had told her earlier that evening, Greeger was already dead. Had she missed something or was this man unaware that Gaelen already knew that?
Barleus continued, "Our men cornered him and some stragglers in a burning building. I’m afraid we lost everyone though, sir, our men and theirs. It was strange, sir, everything caved-in under them. . It was like the ground just gave way. I just barely avoided falling in myself."
"What a pity that would have been," was Gaelen’s uncaring reply. "Are you saying Greeger was not dead when I left him?"
"I went to him to double check as you commanded, sir. Being it was you he had battled with I didn’t expect him to be alive, but he threw gravel in my face and knocked me out when I was off guard. Had he battled with anyone else, Lord Gaelen, I would have been more care …"care…"
"Enough! Are you sure he was in the building when it collapsed?"
"Yes, sir. No one survived."
Gabrielle’s mind was working feverishly. Gaelen hadn’t killed Greeger after all. She wasn’t surprised. If the burning building was his home then they were trying to reach the tunnel. What in the world could have made the earth beneath his floor collapse? Only the god’s knew, but it wouldn’t surprise her if he had evaded their attempts to kill him again.
"Did we loose many men?" Gaelen asked.
"I didn’t take an exact count, sir, but on the whole, it was probably about thirty to forty. Less than half. I’m sure they can be replace easy enough."
"I’m sure they can," he said, turning a cold stare in Barleus’ direction. "As a matter of fact, I found your replacement this evening."
A feeling of grim foreboding fell over Barleus. He knew quite well to whom Gaelen was referring, but hadn’t expected it so soon. "Sir?" he said, faking surprise.
"First thing tomorrow morning, you will report immediately to Xena," Gaelen said, amused to sense the reactions he suspected, anger from one and alarm from the other.
"I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand," Barleus said, his face blushing anger as he strained not to display it. That could easily cost him not only is position, but his life as well.
Gabrielle could only stare at Gaelen, wondering what insanity he was dreaming up now. Why would he tell Barleus that? There was no way that Xena had sided with Gaelen. She couldn’t have. Gaelen was the epitome of all the evil that she used to be. And even if she had, she would never agree to leadinglead another man’s army, being second in the chain of command. Gabrielle’s inquisitive nature and abhorrence of the idea screamed for answers.
"You understand perfectly well, Barleus. As of now, you are no longer in command of my army. Consider it a career change. Xena will lead my army and you will follow her command. Is that understood?"
Barleus, obviously and understandably aghast, hesitated to answer. His anger was overtaking him but he didn’t want to say anything he’d regret later. . Gaelen’s brows drew together into a scowl at the hesitation. "Perhaps I should make you understand," he said, his eyes menacing in their glare.
"No, sir, you don’t have to do that. I understand perfectly, sir," he said promptly. "Xena will lead your army…and I will follow her command."
"Good. Now, that you understand, you can leave." Tight lipped and serious, Barleus nodded and turned to leave. . "Oh, and Barleus." Barleus turned back momentarily and Gaelen added, "Sleep well." " Gaelen laughed as Barleus exited the tent without another word. The curses he sensed swimming throughswimming through Barleus’ head were amusing. Eventually, he would pay for them one way or the other. He looked over at Gabrielle, saw the concerned look in her eyes, and heard the questions in her mind.
Her voice was still a little scratchy from his choke-holdchokehold but she could not remain silent. "I don’t understand what it is that you’re planning, but you’re crazy if you think Xena is going to lead your army. You might as well call Barleus back in and tell him he has his job back."
"You lack faith in me, Gabrielle. Trust me, Xena is ready to go back into the business of war."
"That part of Xena’s life is over. Ares can’t even get her to go back to that way of life, and he’s the god of war. To the gods, you’re nothing more than a piddling mortal. What makes you think you can do any better than a god?"
"Where this Ares is concerned, I believe we are of the same mind. He’s an idiot. In case you hadn’t noticed, Xena’s ability to make war is not all that interests him. His desires lead him to think more like a ‘piddling mortal’, than he would a god. I, on the other hand, have no such interest in her, besides her skill as a warrior."
That, as a man, he had no interest in Xena as a woman Gabrielle found rather surprising. . "Really?" she asked. "Huh … it doesn’t matter, anyway. Xena would never follow you. And even if she were to, eventually, she would kill you and take over your army."
Gaelen couldn’t argue the point and conceded with a nod. "You may lack faith in me, but your faith in Xena is unwavering. It’s admirable, if admiration means anything, which to me, by the way, it doesn’t. Unfortunately, Gabrielle, come morning you will see that I speak the truth, and your faith in Xena will shatter."
"That will never happen," she said matter- of- factly with a shake of her head.
Gaelen stared at her intently for a few seconds, then rose from his seat, walked around the table and sat next to Gabrielle on the cot. He didn’t seem to be in a dangerous mood at the moment but it still made her very uncomfortable. "You know, Gabrielle, I like you," he said in a tone that was almost friendly. "You’re nothing like Xena. I had thought she would be my greatest challenge and now I find that is what you’ve become. That’s why this is going to be so difficult."
"Having to rip into the seams of your perfectly ordered little world and just making one hell of a mess."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," she said uneasily.
"Do you remember Chin, Gabrielle?" he asked rather slyly.
Of course, Gabrielle remembered Chin. In an attempt to keep Xena from doing something she considered deplorable, she had betrayed her best friend,. B but Xena had forgiven her. What did he think he was holding over her head? More important though: How did he know about Chin? What did he know about it? And why would he ask such a question? ? The more she came to know of this man, the less she understood and trusted him. "I don’t understand. You seem to know so much about me. How? Xena didn’t tell you .… dDid she?"
"No. She’s never even spoken your name to me." Gabrielle’s eyes questioned him, so he answered. "It is a gift that I have. I see people like you do, only deeper. That’s why I know about how your husband died; about the first time you took a life; about your union with a dark force and the child it created. I know about Chin, Gabrielle."
These were things no stranger should knowNo stranger should know these things. They were not a topic of public conversation. She began to fear even her thoughts in his presence. "Whatever gift it is that you think you have," she said, staunchly refusing to let down her guard, "there’s nothing you can tell me about Chin that I don’t already know."
"No? Obviously, your utter faith in Xena has blinded you to the truth. Let me show you what you do not know." Gaelen reached to touch her face. . She drew back apprehensively for obvious reasons. "Relax, Gabrielle. I promised I wouldn’t hurt you and I haven’t. I don’t intend to do so now." To himself, he thought, That’s Xena’s job.
Gabrielle relinquished to his touch and allowed Gaelen to touch his thumb and middle finger to her temples. With his free hand, he softly drew her eyes closed. She trembled in fear and distrust. . Then, to her amazement, her mind suddenly became alive with images and sounds that were at first foreign to her. It was a blur of light and sound that slowly came into focus until she saw herself inside a nearly demolished building that was once a beautiful palace. Xena stood next to her in tattered rags. Dark rings rimmed her eyes as she stared at a young Chin man who was covered in dust. It was then that Gabrielle realized where she was.
"Let’s go," Gabrielle heard herself tell Xena. She heard the urgency in her own voice, not wanting a confrontation between Xena and the young Chin man who called himself Ming T’ien.
"Xena!" T’ien called out to her. "I have something to tell you."
Xena turned to her and said, "Gabrielle, make sure everyone gets clear of the building. It’ll collapse at any moment."
"Are you—" Gabrielle began. She grabbed hold of Xena’s arm, concerned that Xena would do something rash in anger.
"I’m fine. Don’t worry. As far as I’m concerned this is all over."
Gabrielle remembered, that even though she was still concerned, she’d listened to Xena and left at that point. But nowNow, it was as if she had gone back in time and was watching through a window. She was expecting to continue to see herself as she helped people to get away from the building, but instead she only saw herself leave Xena behind with Ming T’ien. She watched Xena approach him, her face twisted in hatred.
"Say it," she hissed.
"You made me, Xena. You made me to be the monster I am."
"I know. It’s part of the reason I’m here. I’ve learned to clean up after myself."
As Gabrielle watched, she was suddenly fearful that Xena’s hatred would overtake her and she would finish what she’d started.
"Is that all?" she hissed at him again. But, instead of attacking him, as Gabrielle was afraid she might, Xena only gave Ming T’ien one more angry look, and to Gabrielle’s relief, turned to leave. The fear in Gabrielle’s heart lifted, until…
"One other thing," she heard T’ien say and Xena turned back to face him. "You probably heard I had Lao Ma executed."
There was pain mixed in with her hatred as she stared at him. Gabrielle could see it clearly in her eyes. "Yes," was all she said.
"But I just wanted you to know. It’s not true."
A hopefulness began to grow in Xena’s eyes. Could he be saying that Lao Ma may still be alive? "Really?" she asked, letting the emotion show.
But, T’ien shattered those hopes with one word. "No." Smiling, he added, "I did it myself."
Pure hatred filled Xena’s eyes as she said, "I have something to tell you, Ming T’ien."
"Lao Ma was your Mother!" Gabrielle heard Xena’s voice break as she voiced this revelation.
But, T’ien was not affected by her sorrow. He gave Xena a smug smile and voiced a revelation of his own. "I knew that the whole time!" Xena stared at him in shock, her eyes filling with tears.
Ming T’ien continued. "That’s why I did the execution myself. I knew she wouldn’t use her powers to hurt her ‘little boy’‘little boy’." He said the last two words with such derision that Gabrielle could feel his hate for his own mother emitting from him. She saw Ming T’ien reach into the sash at his waist and take something from it. "I think this belongs to you," he said, and tossed the object to her. It was an oriental hair clip that obviously had sentimental value to Xena from the way she held it in her hands with familiarity and sadness.
Ming T’ien was not moved. He seemed to be getting sadistic pleasure from Xena’s pain. "Her last request was that it was returned to you." He sneered, "Turns out that she was just a sentimental fool." Anger returned to Xena’s face at the harsh words he spoke of Lao Ma. T’ien reached into the rubble on the floor and picked up a heavy book. "Remember this? Mother’s book of wisdom. It failed her in the end. That philosophical sense of peace fell apart! She cried like a baby."
Gabrielle was moved to tears by the horrified look in Xena’s eyes. How she must have loved this woman.
"She even cried on after I had torn her heart from her body!" Ming T’ien cried, disgust clearly written on his face. He threw Lao Ma’s book of wisdom to the floor like so much garbage.
The horror in Xena’s eyes suddenly went cold and the look on her face grew deadly. Her lip curled into a sneer, her eyes were hooded and her grip on the hair clip tightened. With deadly precision, Xena sent the hair clip slicing silently throughraised her arm into the air…air…
"NO!" Gabrielle screamed, braking free of Gaelen’s grip on her and of the vision in her head. Quickly, she stood up and got as far away from Gaelen as she could. "No, that did not happen! I don’t know how you’re doing this, but you’re a liar! You’re making me see things that aren’t true! Xena didn’t kill him."
"Is that what she told you or just what you assumed?"
"She said she made him small again and that she didn’t have to resolve her anger with murder."
"Xena lied to you."
Gaelen rose to his feet and faced her. . "Where’s your faith now, Gabrielle? Where’s your trust? By tomorrow, it won’t even exist." Now Gaelen could feel hatred coming off her like waves of heat. Walking over to her, Gaelen stood face to face with her. Gabrielle attempted to turn away from him, but Gaelen, grabbed her head with both of his hands when she attempted to turn away and forced her to look up at him. His grip was so forceful, she was afraid he’d crush her skull.
"Your faith and trust in Xena is grossly misplaced, Gabrielle. You have no idea what she is really like."
"Stop it!" she cried out, trying to break free but he was too strong for her.
"Or what she’s is capable of doing to people when her rage motivates her. "
"Shut up! I don’t have to listen to you!"
"No, you don’t. You need only to see."
Suddenly, Gabrielle’s mind became a flurry of images. She saw Xena…hate and coldness in her eyes. She saw the fierce warlord that was Xena, the one that was there long before Gabrielle had ever met her. Gaelen continued the vision of Xena and Ming T’ien and showed Gabrielle the moment she’d tried to avoid seeing, when Xena had murdered him. Then, other visions flew though her mind. Visions of Xena slicing and dicing her way through entire nations; visions of Xena killing innocent people, men who were only trying to defend their homelands; visions of Xena torturing those who didn’t live by her code, who didn’t follow her rule. Gabrielle had heard of this Xena from Xena herself, but she never wanted to see it. That Xena was never more real to her than it was in that instant. She’d never truly believed in that Xena until now. Gabrielle screamed. There was no worse torture in the world for her.
Just After Midnight
Greeger stood at the entrance to the cave, staring out at the night sky. For the first time that evening, Greeger experienced the peace of absolute silence. But, there was no silence from within. Inside he was screaming. He screamed for the loss of Phestia and his people’s way of life. He screamed for the loss of his fellow soldiers. He screamed for the loss of Gabrielle. True, they had won the battle against the soldiers coming to kill them all, but they lost the war. Their lives were irrevocably changed, never to be the same. What moved people to do things like this? What made one person consider themselfthemselves so much better than others that they could just murder them and take what was theirs? He wished there was something he could do, some way to pay Gaelen back for all the suffering he’d brought on these people and all the suffering they would have to endure in the days to come.
Lost in his thoughts, Greeger was startled when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Salea standing behind him, a soft smile on her face, but concern in her eyes. "Why are you still awake?" she asked quietly.
"Can’t sleep," he said, turning back to the darkness outside.
"Still beating yourself up?"
He sighed heavily, but did not to answer.
"Nallos was right," she continued when he didn’t answer. "These people are alive because of you."
"These people are still alive because of Gabrielle, not me."
"Greeger, listen to me. You had the wisdom to listenedlisten to Gabrielle instead of Nallos. Where would any of us be if you hadn’t?" He did not answer. "But, you did listen to her and these people are alive now. We may not have a city to go back to, but we have our lives."
"And we cost Gabrielle hers," he added in anger. "I should never have let her stay."
"You don’t really think you could have made her leave? She made her decision to stay, Greeger, and she knew what was at stake when she did. She wouldn’t want you to blame yourself." She gave him a moment to the let the words sink in, allowing him to take her in his arms. From the way he held her she could tell he was drawing comfort from her. She stood there for a long moment scratching his back gently and snuggling against him. Presently she said, "Come on. . You need to rest. We all do after today."
Greeger nodded, kissed her forehead, her nose,nose and then claimed her lips tenderly. She responded willingly and hugged him tightly as their lips parted. "You go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute," he whispered. She nodded, smiled and turned back into the cave.
Greeger closed his eyes and sighed heavily. He wished he could make himself believe what Salea was telling him. Unfortunately, by virtue of his position, he was compelled to take the blame. He was in charge; he was responsible for preserving their city, their lives and their way of life.
Only one other time had Greeger failed this miserably—the time he brought his army up against Xena’s. She had begun taking smaller villages that surrounded her homeland of Amphipolis. Greeger’s village, where he had been born and raised, was in her path of destruction. He was much younger then, but his skill as a warrior granted him the position of General. He had accepted her challenge with the firm intention of sending her and her army straight to Tartarus, but everything went wrong. He underestimated the woman that people were beginning to refer to as the Warrior Princess. She’d slaughtered his army just as Gaelen had. By some miracle, Greeger had been spared her wrath. He had been severely injured and taken for dead. A kindly old man had pulled his nearly lifeless body from the battlefield, cared for him and nursed him back to health. When he finally returned to his home village, he found that there was not much left to return to. Only the women and children had been left alive. The men had been shown no mercy. He saw all this from a distance, though. He never entered the village, ashamed that he had allowed that to happen. That day was the last day that he ever saw his home village. Now, it was as if those days were replaying themselves. It was all happening again. Only this time, he wasn’t walking away.
Just then, a voice interrupted his thoughts in the quiet night. "I can give you your glory back, Greeger. I can give you your revenge." Greeger looked up to see a figure standing outside the cave. In the darkness of the night, he could not make out who it was. Instinctively, Greeger drew his sword. Not wanting to draw the attention of the sleeping people, he walked out of the cave towards the figure.
"Who are you? What do you want here?" he demanded.
"You know who I am, Greeger. I’m the god you abandoned so many years ago." In the night sky, the clouds parted, allowing the light from the moon to shine down on this person before him. But, Greeger did not need the light to know who it was.
"Ares," he said, with anger and disgust in his voice, holding out his sword towards Ares’ chest. He knew there was no way he could hurt or kill the god of war, but that wasn’t his intention. It was a sign of disrespect, a sign that Ares could read very well. "Get out of here, you son of a Bacchae. We don’t want your kind here."
"I would suggest you remove your sword, before I make you eat it," Ares said, with a dangerous look in his eyes. "If ‘my kind’ weren’t here, you’d all be dead right now. I did you a favor."
"What favor was that? ? When you and the rest of the gods turned your backs while Gaelen destroyed our city?"
"For centuries, I protected Phestia in return for their worship and their respect. The army of Phestia had become a thing of legend. There wasn’t a war or a battle that could penetrate those walls. Until the day you walked into town and slowly started to turn everyone against me. I didn’t turn my back until you and the people of Phestia turned yours. You chose your own fate."
"I lost all respect for the god of war the day he chose to make Xena his victorious warrior. I prayed and I sacrificed to you to help me to defend my village those ‘many years ago’. You talk about abandonment. You abandoned me that day on the battlefield and I’ve hated you ever since."
"Then, your own hatred destroyed Phestia. If the people had stayed faithful, maybe I would have and we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Instead, I watched my temple empty day by day over the last ten years. And I watched my glorious Festival of War turn into a despicable festival of the harvest!"
"Being a farmer is a much more noble profession. I wish I had been one, instead of slaving for you."
"You may yet be, unless…"
"Unless what? What could you possibly expect me to do for you?"
"Go up against Gaelen one more time and I’ll ensure your victory."
"Are you insane?" he laughed sarcastically. " Oh, I forgot, you’re the god of war. Of course, you’re insane."
"This isn’t a joke, Greeger. I’m deadly serious."
"So am I! You are insane!" He pointed off into the distance to where he assumed Gaelen was camped. "At least he still has something of an army. I probably couldn’t even call what I have left a platoon. And you want me to go back up against Gaelen? Even if you could ensure our victory, I don’t trust you within an inch of my life!"
"Whether you trust me or not is not the issue. The issue is the future of humanity," Ares said with a look of warning in his eye.
"When did the god of war ever care about the future of humanity? The only interest you ever show in humans is what you can get out of them."
"I’m not going to stand here and argue with you on the finer points of my godship and how I decide to use it. You have no idea how powerful Gaelen is. He has to be stopped and I can’t do it alone."
That was a revelation Greeger had not expected. He was surprised, but intrigued as well and hoped he could use it to his advantage "Are you asking me for … help?" he asked, almost smiling.
"If that’s the word you choose to use … then … yes … I’m asking for your help," Ares said, his annoyance showing in his face and his voice.
"I’d rather watch you rot in Tartarus, you bastard. Good, brave warriors died out there tonight and you come to me for help?! Where were you when they could have used your help?"
"I was busy caving-in an underground tunnel, killing some of my best warriors so that you and your soldiers could get free in one piece!"
Greeger finally lowered his sword and stared at the wargod, dumbfounded. After all his years of cursing Ares, Greeger could not believe that he had actually done something so selfless. Of course, it was a short livedshort-lived sentiment. "Don’t flatter yourself, Greeger. I didn’t do it for you. I did it because I still need you alive. If you’re dead, you’re not much help to me."
"Then you might as well kill me, Ares, because there’s nothing you can do or say that will convince me to go back up against Gaelen."
"I can’t fight him alone. I need the strength of an army to fight him. You don’t know this man’s powers. You experienced only a taste of them on the battlefield. He’s capable of much more."
Greeger remembered how Gaelen had lifted and thrown him several feet off the ground without so much as a touch. He hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on that memory until now. Ares could see that he still had not convinced Greeger, so he tried something else, something that might just catch his attention. "What if I told you Gaelen was holding Xena … and Gabrielle captive?"
He smiled at this new tactic of Ares’ and shook his head. "I’d say you’re a liar. I watched Gabrielle fall to her death from the stone wall. There’s no way she could have survived that. And as for that black-hearted bitch, Xena, she joined up with Gaelen the first chance she got. Not even Gabrielle could convince me that Xena left Phestia to try to stop that army. The whole idea is so farfetched it’s ridiculous and I never took Xena to be that stupid."
"If my word isn’t good enough for you, then, perhaps this will be." With a slow swiping arc of his arm, Ares created an image in the air.
Greeger stared transfixed, for within the image he saw Xena chained and beaten. Blood and bruises covered her face and body. If what he was seeing was true, there went his first theory. Then, the image changed and he saw Gaelen choking Gabrielle. Pained to his heart by the vision, he reached forward to help her, but the image vanished. Greeger looked at Ares, questions in his eyes.
"Now do you believe?" Ares asked.
"If that bastard…"
"The little brat is fine. She just made him angry. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have any intentions of hurting her."
"Then, what are his intentions?"
"That’s been the question of the day. I don’t really know."
"I thought you were the god of war…"
"I am! But, not even the god of war knows everything. The most I know is that he’s moving east. I don’t know much about his future plans except for the fact that Xena figures highly in it."
"What does he want with Xena?"
"He wants a killing machine. He wants to take away the warrior in her and turn her into a monster."
"I though she already was one."
"Oh no. What you came across before was only the warrior. You cannot imagine the kind of devastation Xena would cause if she became a monster. With her at his side, Gaelen would rule the known world in no time. Believe me, I almost did."
"If all he wants is Xena, what does he need Gabrielle for?"
"The monster is not truly a monster until its first kill."
Greeger grew cold at the thought. If Gabrielle was truly alive and in Gaelen’s clutches, he had no choice but to assist Ares. "Okay, I’ll lead my few soldiers back into battle, but I want you to know this. I do this for Gabrielle. Not for you and certainly not for Xena. She can rot right beside you in Tartarus for all I care. If you want to save Xena’s hide, you can do it yourself, because I won’t help you."
"You’re overlooking something, Greeger. If you go in only for Gabrielle, she’ll fight you tooth and nail before she’ll let you leave Xena behind." " Greeger’s shoulders drooped. He hung his head and sighed irritably. Understanding Greeger’s reaction, Ares added, "I know, I know. I haven’t the slightest idea what those two see in each other either, but they’re inseparable."
Irritation showing clearly on his face, Greeger, nevertheless, got down to business. "What’s the plan of attack?"
"I’ll scout out the area, but we wait until dawn."
"Why dawn? Why don’t we get this over with now?"
"Because, Gaelen doesn’t intend to implement his plan until dawn. He won’t be expecting an attack and most of his troops will be unarmed. We catch him when his guard is down. One other thing you should know about him."
"Gaelen has a very powerful mind. He has the ability to read the mind of other mortals. For some reason, he can’t read my mind."
‘Probably because you don’t have one,’ Greeger thought, unintentionally mirroring the thoughts of Gaelen from the day before.
"It probably has something to do with my godhood.," Ares said thoughtfully. "Anyway, I believe I can shield the mind of you and your soldiers from him, but I haven’t tested this theory yet. Tomorrow will tell."
"And if you can’t, he’ll know we’re coming. He’ll slaughter us all and Gabrielle while he’s at it. Then, he’ll have his monster."
Ares stepped forward and stood face to face with Greeger. "I said I would ensure our victory and I will. Gaelen may think he’s powerful, but he’s nothing without me."
Greeger had Ares’ determination, but he did not have his confidence. He knew that Gaelen wanted more than just to rule the known world. He wanted to destroy it. Greeger remembered the words that Gaelen had spoken to him: "You are a low form of life that scurries about on this planet with no purpose to your pathetic existence. That’s why I’m going to do you all a favor and exterminate every one of you." Gaelen had spoken to him as if he were a higher form of life and stood in a position to judge them, to decide whether or not they had the right to life. Obviously, Gaelen had decided they should all die, or be exterminated, as he put it. But, besides loosing his warrior princess, Greeger could not understand why it was so important to Ares to defeat Gaelen. He knew it had nothing to do with the ‘future of humanity’. Ares cared little for humanity other than what he could get out of them. Perhaps tomorrow’s events would answer some of his questions. That is, if he lived long enough to ask them. Just then, the crackling of twigs and rustling of bushes drew Greeger and Ares attention to the woods around them. Greeger raised his sword and Ares drew his own.
"Someone’s coming," Greeger whispered.
"Whoever it is better be ready to fight," Ares said readying himself.
Ares and Greeger watched with apprehension as a figure emerged from the forest that surrounded the cave. The clouds parted once again, lighting the figure as it approached. To their complete surprise, the figure was no warrior waiting in the forest to deal one last deathblow. They both lowered their swords and breathed a sigh of relief as they stared upon the figure of a young child.
Gabrielle awoke to the rushing of a cool breeze across her face. She took a deep breath, smelling the cool, clean air that blew in from the open tent. Despite all, it promised to be another beautiful day. . She wiped away new tears that fell from the corners of her eyes and sat up on the cot to stare out at the beginnings of a new day. Gaelen was no where in sight, but that was all right. After last night, if she never saw him again it would be to soon. Her head still hurt. Gabrielle rubbed at her temples, unaware of the bruises that had formed there. She tried to rub the pain away but, try as she might, she could not rub away the images in her mind. All night she tried to clear her mind of what Gaelen had shown her. She barely slept.
There were some images in her mind thatSome images in her mind were so disturbing they wouldn’t leave. Her mind kept returning to them again and againrepeatedly. Gaelen had forced her to watch through her mind’s eyes as Xena murdered a band of Amazon warriors. It was something that had happened long ago, Gabrielle knew that. In her mind was the vision of some woman named Alti. She had somehow influenced Xena to kill them, but it didn’t take away the horror Gabrielle felt watching Xena do it.
Nevertheless, Gaelen had gotten what he wanted. He had drawn up feelings of anger and hate from deep inside Gabrielle. She hated that Xena for what she was and for the things she had done. She was incensed at Gaelen for making her see, in vivid detail, many of the horrible things Xena had done in her life. His plan, however, had not been a total success for she now understood Xena’s shame. Hearing Xena’s stories of her old life had made an impression on her, but actually seeing them had given them greater reality and meaning. That Xena had the strength to turn away from all that, to become a better person, made Gabrielle love her all the more.
There was only one drawback—Ming T’ien. . Gabrielle had always believed that when Xena said she’d "made him small again", it meant she’d left him in disgrace. Gabrielle had responded to that belief, saying: "Your not killing him made you exactly what Lao Ma wanted you to be." Xena hadn’t said anything to dissuade her from believing that Ming T’ien was alive. She simply let her believe it to be so. Apparently, Xena couldn’t let Gabrielle know that she had disgraced herself. She had momentarily lapsed back into her hatred and allowed herself to be motivated by it. Gabrielle felt for Xena, and maybe even understood why Xena reacted in anger and killed Ming T’ien. But, she could not understand why Xena would lie to her. Why couldn’t she tell me the truth?,? Gabrielle thought. Just then, a shadow fell across her. Gabrielle looked up to see Gaelen enter the tent.
"Perhaps…this is simply my point of view; you don’t have to follow it if you don’t wish to…perhaps you could get the truth out of Xena, if you decided to tell the truth yourself. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘The truth shall set you free’? Think about it, Gabrielle. It just might."
Gabrielle knewunderstood exactly what he was talking about, but she was given no time to respond. Gaelen quickly grabbed her arm, yanked her to her feet and brought her outside the tent. Outside, Gabrielle saw that all of Gaelen’s troops had gathered around the two tents. They watched her with interest, as if she were about to put on a show for them. Barleus stood among them, anger written plainly across his face. Gabrielle remembered what Gaelen told Barleus the night before: "First thing tomorrow morning, you will report immediately to Xena." Did he bring her out here to witness this change of command? To show her that Xena really had returned to the business of war? Gabrielle would never believe it unless Xena told her to her face. Gaelen leaned over and whispered, "You wanted to see Xena so badly? Here she is." To the guards outside the tent, he commands: "Bring her out!"
As the two guards entered the tent, Gabrielle felt her stomach tighten nervously. She had no idea what to expect when they brought Xena out. Gaelen still held her arm tightly,; otherwise she would have run into the tent herself to stop this agonizing wait. If she could only be alone with Xena for a moment, maybe…
The words died in her mind and her stomach dropped when the guards emerged, dragging Xena by her arms into the open circle formed by the tents and the warriors. All her armor was gone and so were her boots. She had been savagely beaten, like nothing Gabrielle had ever seen before. The guards dropped her to the ground like a heap of garbage. She tried to get up, but couldn’t. Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears at the sight of her best friend hurt so badly. With a desperate longing to rush to Xena’s side, she reached out, struggling against Gaelen’s grasp.
"Xena!" she called out. Then looking to Gaelen with pleading eyes, she said, "Let go! I have to go to her!"
Gaelen yanked on her arm and drew her close to him. "Not until it’s time," he hissed through clenched teeth. Gabrielle continued to fight, but Gaelen kept her in place. "Guards, help her up," he said disgustedly. Gaelen watched Xena closely, with his eyes and with his mind. So far, he’d sensed nothing from her besides a dull rage…and pain. She was hurting, that was obvious. But, he got the feeling she was still controlling a part of herself. Controlling her rage, maybe, to a certain extent? Trying to keep herself from loosing control over her emotions? That wasn’t what he needed. He needed those emotions to be exposed and raw.
The two guards returned to Xena’s side to help her to her feet. Though unsteady, she shoved them away, refusing their assistance any longer. She looked out at the crowd of warriors who stared back at her in silent curiosity.
"Men!" Gaelen said for everyone to hear. "Barleus has stepped obligingly down in rank to make room for your new commander. Xena! The Warrior Princess!"
His shout was followed not by warrior cries, but by murmurs. How could this beaten mess lead an army? Gaelen was not concerned. He expected this reaction from them. What he had in mind for Xena would bring them around soon enough.
High up above in the trees, no one saw…or even sensed…the two men concealed in the dense foliage. Actually, it was one man and one Olympian god. Greeger watched with concern the scene that was playing before him. He was happy to see that Gabrielle had been unharmed, but not so happy with the situation. He saw how worried she was for Xena. She was looking with a broken heart upon the battered body of her best friend. Greeger, on the other hand, only saw the same cold-hearted eyes he remembered from long ago. He could not imagine a Xena that had chosen a life of good, now using her warrior ways to help people. He knew, however, that Gabrielle believed this. "Xena is a different person now," she had told him the other day. "She came to Phestia to help you and your people, not to fight against you." Until Gabrielle saw the truth for herself, he would go with her instincts.
"Good. It’s working. He doesn’t sense any of you." Ares said, smiling.
"How can you be sure? Maybe he’s just bluffing," Greeger replyedreplied.
"I know when someone’s bluffing. My do-gooder brother is the King of Bluff. He’s so easy to read, it’s pathetic."
Watching the scene below intently, Greeger aaskedasked, "If that’s true, why do I always hear about Hercules kicking your ass?"
Ares took his eyes off the action below for a moment and turned dangerous eyes in Greeger’s direction. "What you hear is wrong. Stories of Hercules are always exaggerated."
Greeger was still intent on what was going on below and failed to see the boiling anger in Ares’ eyes, so he answered, "True, but the ones I hear about him kicking your ass are always pretty detailed." With angry eyes ablaze, Ares began to work up a ball of fire to hurl at Greeger for his insolence, when he was distracted by a shout.
Greeger recognized the man who had attempted to kill him while he was down. The man stepped forward from the crowd and entered the circle. Even from his vantage pointvantagepoint, Greeger could see the anger and frustration in the man’s eyes.
"Do you really want this to lead you?" Barleus shouted, pointing at Xena. "This bruised and beaten woman who can barely stand on her own two feet! Is that what you want?" Barleus was playing a dangerous game and he knew it, but if he must die let it be defending his honor rather than being made a laughing stock before the men he had commanded. The crowd of warriors shouted in unison: "NO!" Greeger and Ares both expected to see Gaelen cut him down, but strangely he did nothing.
Emboldened by this, Barleus walked over to Xena and grabbed her arm just above the elbow. "I say we show Lord Gaelen what we think of his new recruit! Death to Xena!" The warriors shouted in agreement.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed, straining against Gaelen, but his grip was too tight. . Barleus turned toward Xena, still holding her arm and took hold of his sword handle to draw it and perform the deed himself. In the blink of an eye, Xena twisted her left arm around his, snapped it at the elbow and slammed the heal of her right palm under his nose. With a shutter, Barleus crumbled to the ground unconscious. The warriors cheering him on were silenced. Xena stood before them now, her footing sure, her eyes clear and her face determined. The mightier of the two had been proven. One warrior stepped out from the crowd, and held his sword in the air and began shouting, the rest quickly following suit: "Xena! Xena! Xena! Xena!"
Gaelen laughed, knowing quite well that this show of strength would insight his warriors to recognize his wisdom and unite them under their new leader. Gabrielle still fought against him. The last time she heard that shouting of Xena’s name, Xena had reveled in it. It seemed somehow to ignite the flame of her warrior’s heart. Even now, Gabrielle could see a smile spreading across her bruised face.
Greeger had heard that familiar shouting once before, too. After she had defeated his army, he remembered lying injured and dying, hearing her warriors shout out her name. Ares, on the other hand, didn’t know how to feel. It had been a while since he’d heard warriors shouting Xena’s name with reverence. He felt pride in it, but at the same time, he felt jealously, because it was not at his hand that Xena earned the respect of the warriors.
Gaelen saw it also. He sensed pride coming from Xena and he saw it on her face as well. Now was the time for the final show down. It was time for Xena to decide what side she truly wanted to be on.
"Now it is time, Gabrielle!" he said above the shouting. Taking a step forward, he threw Gabrielle to the ground at Xena’s feet. The warriors’ chanting stopped. All watched with interest as the scene unfolded. Gabrielle looked up from her place on the ground into Xena’s battered face and wanted to cry. Her face was black and blue, covered in dried blood from a gash across her right eyebrow. Xena looked at Gabrielle through hooded eyes as if she didn’t even recognize her. The gods only knew what she had been through, that her mind could be in as bad a condition as her body. Recognizing the danger, Gabrielle got to her feet slowly, careful not to make any sudden moves. . "Xena, it’s me. It’s Gabrielle."
With that Gaelen stepped into the circle and asked, "Do you remember her, Xena?"
Xena looked between the two of them. She looked confused, as though she didn’t understand what was happening. In his gloved right hand, Gaelen held Xena’s sword, while the other hand rested on the handle of his own sword at his waist. "She’s your enemy, Xena."
Gabrielle watched Xena look at her in suspicion. . "Don’t listen to him, Xena. He’s lying."
Gaelen grabbed Xena’s hand and placed the handle of her sword in her palm. "She not your friend. She wants to keep you from fulfilling your destiny. Remember, you own this world. She wants to take it from you." Xena’s face hardened. "She wants to destroy you, Xena. Kill her."
Xena raised her sword and placed the tip of at Gabrielle’s throat, but Gabrielle refused to raise a hand in defense. She held in her heart utter faith in Xena and believed that she would never kill her. If she did, so be it. Life without her would be meaningless anyway.
As soon as Xena’s sword was raised, Greeger was ready to command the charge. He moved to get down from the tree, but Ares held out a hand, "No, not yet."
"Are you crazy? What’s it going to take, for Gabrielle to have her neck sliced open?"
"Gabrielle’s still alive. If Xena wanted her dead, she’d be dead already. Xena has to decide whether she’s going to be on Gaelen’s side or on ours. We don’t make a move until Xena does."
"And what if her move is towards Gabrielle?"
"Once again, Greeger, you’re underestimating Xena. The fact that she’s hesitating means that she doesn’t fully trust Gaelen."
"You still haven’t answered my question."
"Then, we kill them all. Xena included."
Gaelen watched the sword slightly tremble at Gabrielle’s neck. He looked over at Xena, and even though the look on her face was a deadly one, he sensed uncertainty in her. Her eyes danced between expressions of rage and concern.
"Why do you hesitate, Xena? If what you are feeling is anxiety over losing your friend, don’t bother. She doesn’t care about you."
Gabrielle, too, could see that Xena was unsure about what action to take, and that meant that the Xena she knew was in there somewhere. With the right words, Gabrielle knew she could bring her out. "I do care about you, Xena. You know I do. Just look in his eyes and you’ll see that he’s a liar."
"She calls me a liar, Xena, while she lies to your very face!" He walked up behind Gabrielle and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Every day of her life she lies to you, Xena, to make you forget the day that a child named Hope disappeared from your lives." Xena’s eyes look in confusion at Gabrielle, seeming unable to comprehend what Gaelen was trying to tell her. She did not remove the sword from Gabrielle’s throat.
"Shut up!" Gabrielle hissed at Gaelen, but tears filled her eyes as well as sadness & and guilt as she looked at Xena and shook her head. "Don’t listen to anything that comes out of his mouth, Xena. He’s trying to trick you!"
Gaelen was filled with a sudden sense of fear and it was coming from Xena, though it was quickly smothered over by rage. Although the rage showed clearly in her eyes, Gaelen was apprehensive. Fear and rage were not necessarily incompatible, but why the sudden mixture of these two powerful emotions?
Xena brought the sword closer to Gabrielle’s throat, lifting her head and watched a tear roll off Gabrielle’s cheek and onto the sword. It glinted in the light of the sun as it came up over the hills.
"She lied to you that day, Xena. Every word she spoke was a lie." Though apprehensive about what he’d sensed from Xena, Gaelen felt sure his next words would have the desired results. "Gabrielle never threw that child down the gorge. She did not kill her. Did you, Gabrielle?"
The look on Xena’s face was one of disbelief. She looked from Gabrielle to Gaelen for more answers. Gabrielle closed her eyes and tears ran freely down her face, but she refused to answer Gaelen.
"Why don’t you tell Xena what really happened. Tell her how you betrayed her trust in you."
"Get your hands off me!" she demanded shrugging Gaelen’s hands off her shoulders. He removed his hands at her request, but remained near watching Xena’s face harden as she stared back at a defiant Gabrielle. Gabrielle stood bravely with Xena’s sword dangerously at her throat, preparing to face Xena’s anger. She hadn’t wanted Xena to ever know what happened that day, but she realized that if she didn’t tell her, Gaelen would. She would not give him that satisfaction. "I only did what I had to, Xena. I had to protect her. So, I laid her in a basket of straw and grass, and floated her down the river." Gabrielle’s heart sank at the look on Xena’s face. There was disbelief, what she thought was a brief flickering of sadness,sadness and then anger. The look of rage in Xena’s eyes terrified her, but she stood her ground and kept telling herself that Xena would never hurt her. "I’m sorry if I lied to you, Xena, but I couldn’t let you hurt Hope. She was just a child, my child, even if she was capable of the things you said she was."
Gaelen could see the rage boiling in Xena eyes. With a growing smile he said, "She betrayed you, Xena. Kill her!" With a look of satisfaction he watched Xena’s blade move against Gabrielle’s throat, the point indenting her skin.
Still reaching for the right words to bring out her Xena, Gabrielle said, "Go ahead! Kill me, if that’s what you feel like you have to do, but don’t do it thinking I wanted to hurt you, Xena. You know that I would never deliberately try to hurt you. You’re my best friend, Xena, and I love you. No matter what happens here today, I always will." Gabrielle felt the sword leave her neck and for a moment she felt relief … until Xena’s face contorted into an ugly rage and her mouth opened in a warrior’s scream. Gabrielle suddenly felt her feet slip out from under her. Her butt landed on the ground ricocheting intense pain up her spine. As if in reaction, the back of her head hit the ground with such force that her vision began to swim and she felt dizzy. When she blinked her eyes clear, Xena was standing over her with her sword raised into the air, ready to send it ramming through her chest. Gabrielle’s eyes widened in horror.
Gaelen’s eyes widened in glee. He’d felt Xena’s rage take over her feelings for her friend. She reacted exactly as he knew she would. He’d watched her knock Gabrielle off her feet and then stand over her with only the instinct to kill. Gabrielle meant nothing to her now.
As fear set into Gabrielle’s heart, so did acceptance. If she was going to die, she would rather die by Xena’s hand, not anyone else’s. They would see each other again soon and then all would be made right. Gabrielle closed her eyes and prepared to meet her fate.
From their vantagepointvantage point in the tree, Greeger and Ares watched as the scene unfolded itself. Greeger had produced a bow and arrow just as Xena had turned on Gabrielle, but Xena was too quick for him and his aim unsteady. There was nothing either one of them could do.
Gaelen watched in fascination and pleasure as Xena’s sword descended lightening fast towards Gabrielle’s heart. That’s when he sensed a sudden change in emotions. She still felt the rage, but this time it was directed at him! It didn’t take long for him to figure out that she had deceived him. He could see into her mind clearly now and realized everything that she had done. He had barely enough time to react when Xena’s sword changed direction and came rocketing towards him. Just in time, he lifted his own sword to deflect the blow, the force of it nearly knocking him to his feet. Backing up with his sword outstretched before him he stammered, "How did you…"," wondering how it was possible that Xena had hidden all her thoughts from him.
"I have many skills!" she growled through clenched teeth. She came at him again and their swords met.
Sensing a sudden change, Gabrielle opened her eyes to see Xena attacking Gaelen. She smiled with relief and happiness, but was reserved. She knew she would still have to face the consequences afterward.
Ares smiled excitedly, as his warrior princess began to do battle with Gaelen. Greeger could only watch dumbfounded. It had happened so quickly, he was still trying to figure it out. Ares slapped Greeger’s arm, grinning. Greeger was still confused. . "You see, I, I told you!" Ares laughed aloud. "Never underestimate Xena! Now we attack!" He did a back flip off the tree and landed on both feet and yelled, "Attack!"
"Wait! What in Tartarus just happened?" Greeger grunted as he worked his way down from the tree, anxiously watching Gabrielle get back on her feet. The warriors around her were standing around in confusion, not sure if what was happening was supposed to happen. They knew their Lord Gaelen had something planned for them, but was it this.
As it turned out, the soldier to whom Gaelen had handed Gabrielle’s staff had liked the feel of it and decided to keep it. She caught sight of him standing near by and he was, of course, holding it plain as day in his left hand. At that moment, she heard a dozen or more cries of attack which added to the confusion. Taking advantage of the situation, Gabrielle grabbed her staff from the warrior’s hand to his surprise and he quickly tasted it’sits fury. . Gabrielle took him down with one swipe across the face.
Xena heard the approaching soldiers as well, but had no time to concern herself with them. She had two tasks before her. To kill Gaelen and get her chakram back. She swung the sword towards him and he blocked it. Xena felt the pain from her broken ribs shooting through her body, so she closed her mind off to it. She couldn’t fight Gaelen if she concentrated on her pain. It was a skill she’d taught herself many years ago.
Now that he could read every thought in her mind, Gaelen knew he had been tricked. He’d never wanted someone dead as much as he wanted Xena dead at that moment. He would take her head, chop the rest of her up into little pieces and feed her to the dogs. In his rage he decided to fight Xena on her terms, instead of using his power to dominate her. She was beaten down, weak and in pain. He would best her in no time.
If Ares had been around to hear those thoughts, he would have told Gaelen the same thing he told Greeger. That he was underestimating Xena. Instead, he was in the middle of running across a clearing with a band of soldiers, ready to make war. Greeger had caught up to him just as they met up with the sparsely armed warriors. The soldiers fought fiercely with the power of the god of war to back them up. Some of Gaelen’s warriors, when they realized they were fighting against Ares, fell to their knees to do obeisance to their god. Ares showed his former warriors no mercy when he beheaded them where they knelt.
Greeger fought through the warriors to get to where Gabrielle was fighting. She was being attacked from all sides, but was aptly fighting them off with her staff. He admired her skill with the staff, another attribute she creditedattributed to Xena. She had learned well though and that stick could become a deadly weapon in her hands. While Gabrielle’s back was turned to fight off one warrior, another was coming up from behind her. So, Greeger rushed to her side and quickly took care of the attacking warrior. Gabrielle turned when she heard someone behind her, only to see Greeger taking out another one. Gabrielle was elated when she saw him, because she thought he’d been killed. The last thing Gabrielle had seen of him was his battle with Gaelen. So happy were they to see each other that, in the middle of the battle, they found a moment to give each other a hug.
"Are you okay?" he hollered above the sounds of battle.
"I’m fine. I think…" she was about to say that Xena was the one who needed help, but she saw a warrior coming up from behind Greeger. At the same time, he saw one coming up from behind her. "Look out!" they warned each other, switching places to battle their attackers. . As they turn to face each other, Gabrielle sees Ares involved in the battle, but didn’t take the time to see who he was fighting.
"Ares!" she said with a sneer, raising her staff defiantly.
Greeger placed a hand on her staff and lowered it. "No, don’t." he said with a half smile. . "Believe it or not, he’s on our side."
"Ares? Yeah right. When Tartarus freezes over."
"It’s true. Just look who he’s fighting."
To her surprise he was actually fighting against Gaelen’s warriors and she saw what he did to those who realized that he was the god of war. So, he was on their side, yet by her standards beheading men knelt before him in worship was still cruel. Of course, even Ares couldn’t hold a candle to Gaelen’s black heart. Could it be that he came here to rescue her and Xena? Was there a heart underneath all that gusto for war and bloodlust after all?
Before he opened his eyes, Barleus heard the sounds of battle. Feet trampled by him. He felt blood trickling from his nose and tremendous pain in the arm Xena had broken. Hearing her war cry pierce through the morning air, he sat upright and saw her battling Gaelen. He couldn’t believe it when he saw Gaelen fighting her with a sword. Around the men, he’d always chosen to use his powers. Why didn’t he use them on her? He saw Gabrielle and that bastard Greeger next. They had turned in response to Xena’s war cry. Perhaps he couldn’t kill Xena, but he could definitely kill one of them.
Gabrielle and Greeger had turned when they heard Xena’s war cry. It split through the air like a lightening bolt. They watched as Xena flipped through the air over Gaelen and met him from behind. Gabrielle knew Xena was seriously hurt and that she may need the attentions of a healer, but there was no stopping this fight.
In the second that it took Xena to flip over Gaelen, he was ready for her when she landed behind him. Her thoughts had returned to him clearer than ever and he was able to counteract her every move. He brought his sword behind him and blocked the blow of her sword. Gaelen turned to swipe at her midsection and she jumped back. The next thing he knew, her fist was in his face. Gaelen stumbled backward, but came back with tremendous force. Their swords met and slid along each other as each fighter tried forcing the other to yield. Gaelen gained the upper hand by jabbing his hand into Xena’s broken ribs. The pain was more than she could block out of her mind and she fell to her knees. . His blow to her midriff knocked the wind out of her or she would have cried out from the piercing pain. She heard Gabrielle cry out to her.
Gabrielle tried to watch the fight between Xena and Gaelen, in between fighting his warriors. When she saw Xena go down, she quickly swiped her staff across the face of the warrior she battled with and called out Xena’s name. Greeger turned when he heard Gabrielle’s cry and saw Xena go down. He watched Gaelen kick Xena in the face just as she fell to her knees. This time she fell to the ground, but she wasn’t finished yet. Xena kicked her legs out, knocking Gaelen’s feet out from under him. He fell to the ground with a hard thud.
Xena was jumping back to her feet when Greeger noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Barleus was coming at him with a dagger. In one swift move, Greeger spun around, kicked the dagger from his hand,hand and came back around to land one armor-clad fist in his face. Barleus was once again down for the count. "That’ll teach you to sneak up on me, boy!" He picked up Barleus’ dagger from off the ground. "I’ll holding this for you ‘til you learn how to use it."
Barleus writhed in pain. . The fall had not only pined his broken right arm beneath him, but Greeger had punched him in the nose;, right in the same spot Xena had. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it was broken. He muttered incoherent curses at them both, but Greeger walked off laughing. At that moment Barleus felt Gaelen’s presence in his mind. Barleus could hear Gaelen’s voice in his head saying ‘Take command. You know the plan.’ Barleus looked up and saw Gaelen falling to the ground.
Xena jumped back up to her feet and stood over Gaelen. There was just one more thing she needed to do before hacking the bastard to pieces. He had something of hers that she wanted back, her chakram. With her foot, she took the chakram from his belt and flung it into the air, catching it with practiced skill. With a murderous sneer, she swung her arm up in an arc, ready to separate his head into two pieces with it. . "Xena! No!" she heard Gabrielle call to her. She wanted to ignore Gabrielle’s pleading voice and just start cutting this bastard to pieces, but she couldn’t. She was angry with Gabrielle at that moment, but she knew her for what she really was and in Gabrielle’s eyes this was a defenseless man. Her gentle heart could never condone killing anyone, not even Gaelen, under these circumstances. Xena’s vengeful heart, on the other hand, told her ‘Kill him! It doesn’t matter what Gabrielle thinks anymore. She lied to you! It would serve her right, after what she did.’ The chakram was raised, she was poised to kill and she wanted to kill him with all her being, but her love for Gabrielle won out. If Gabrielle considered it wrong to kill this scum, then she wouldn’t do it.
Gaelen continued to lay there and watch Xena. He could feel her fighting with her emotions. She wanted to kill him. She wanted to slit his stomach open and show him his entrails. He laughed because she couldn’t do it, even though she wanted to so badly. "What’s the matter Xena? Gabrielle’s conscience getting the better of you?" Xena looked down into his laughing face with disgust. "Why do you let her control you? You want to kill me, Xena. Do it! Don’t listen to her! Feel your rage and strike me down!" Xena knew he wanted her to attack him in anger and try to kill him. He would fight back, of course, and try to stop her…if he was fast enough. It would be enough for him, though, if she would just give in to her hatred. He was still trying to control her emotions and make the killer he wanted. But, Xena had fought him until now. She wasn’t about to give in to him just as his defeat was so close at hand.
Barleus, at that moment was getting to his feet unsteadily, cradling his broken arm. He called out to the warriors. "Retreat!" catching Xena’s attention and giving Gaelen the chance he needed. So, Xena didn’t want to kill an unarmed man? This might give her a little incentive. He raised up his legs and with both feet together, he rammed the soles of his boots into her stomach. Adding a little of his own power into the kick, Gaelen sent Xena flying.
Barleus’ call for retreat had caught Gabrielle’s attention, too. So, she didn’t see Xena flying through the air. Around her, Gaelen’s warriors were retreating. They broke off from the battle and ran into the surrounding wooded areas in all directions.
"That’s right! Run!" Ares called out to the retreating warriors. "Tell the rest of them what happens when they defy the god of war!" Ares raised his sword in the air and shouted: "To victory!" Greeger and the rest of his soldiers raised their swords and their voices in victory. However, the victory was oblivious to Gabrielle. . She saw Xena hit the ground on her back and heard her cry out in pain even above the sound of the shouting soldiers. "Xena!" she screamed.
Gaelen had regained his feet. He heard Gabrielle’s cry and saw her running towards her wounded friend, but the last thing he wanted was Gabrielle in his way. . However, killing her was not important to him anymore. He no longer wanted herdidn’t want her dead, at least not yet. What he really wanted was to kill Xena. Gabrielle would only hinder those plans. . So, Gaelen mustered up a little power, outstretched one hand in Gabrielle’s direction and sent her flying backwards in the other direction.
Gabrielle felt her feet lift off the ground and felt herself fly through the air. She didn’t know exactly how it happened, but here she was. Then suddenly, she stopped…in mid-air. She saw Gaelen, his arm outstretched, and realized in astonishment that it was he who’d sent her flying. She sawglanced at the confusion and fierce anger on hisGaelen’s face., h His eyes were directed on someone behind her. Looking back, she saw Ares. His eyes were shooting daggers in Gaelen’s direction. His arm is up in the air, as well, holding Gabrielle there with his own power. With a curled lip he said, "Leave the brat outta this! It’s time you deal with me."
This was the first time Gaelen had seen Ares since they’d spoken in the tent. He had no intention of being loyal to Ares and fully intended to betray him, even desrtoydestroy him. Ares however had beaten him to the punch. "Ares!" he hissed, but Ares simply disappeared before his eyes. Still not fully convinced that Ares is any kind of a god, Gaelen was surprised by this unusual vanishing act.
Ares disappearance,disappearance left Gabrielle to fall a half dozen or so feet to the ground. She barely noticed it because Xena was still her first concern. While Gaelen’s attention was diverted, she tried once again to run to Xena’s side.
"Where are you, Ares? Come out and fight," Gaelen said, looking all around, his sword ready. "Let’s see how quickly I can best a god." The next thing he knew, there was a tap at his shoulder. When he turned, the only thing he saw was Ares’ fist. It hit him square in the jaw and he stumbled backwards, but not down.
"Not doing too good so far." Ares laughed, and beckoneding Gaelen with both hands. "Come on. Let’s see what you’ve got."
"More than you think!" he responded in anger. . With a side stepping motion he penetrated Ares’ defenses and landed a punch dead in Ares’ face,face then kicked and sent him flying. Ares landed on the ground a few of feet away. Wiping his lip and realizing this is going to be a good fight, Ares got back up on his feet, ready for more. "Oh, so you want to play rough, huh? I’ll show you rough." Ares jumped and sent himself flying back through the air towards Gaelen. He tackled him to the ground and they began grappling with each other fiercely.
Gabrielle finally made it to Xena, who was just trying to sit up. She was obviously in pain and having difficulty breathing. She fell to her knees at Xena’s side and placed a careful arm across Xena’s shoulder.
"Xena!" she said breathlessly. "Are you okay?" " There was still anger in Xena’s eyes when she looked up at her, an anger that only deepened when she saw Ares fighting Gaelen. Her rise to her feet was obviously very painful for her, and even though Gabrielle felt she should remain still, this was not the time to argue about it.
"I’m fine," Xena said with a grimace. "Gabrielle, get my sword."
"Xena, no. I have to get you to a healer. You’re hurt. You’re in pain."
Xena turned a look so cold and angry toward her it sent a shiver through her body. "Gabrielle…I said get my sword," she commanded.
With that Gabrielle’s anger began to flare. "You’re already hurt, Xena," she said defiantly. "And badly, from what I can tell. If you go out there again, you’ll only make it worse. I won’t help you do that, Xena! If you want your sword, you’re going to have to go out there and get it yourself."
Xena’s face turned hard. She turned from Gabrielle, yanking her arm out of her grasp. Walking a couple of feet forward, she stopped when her sword was at her feet. With enormous effort, Xena bent over and picked it up, the pain she was fighting showing itself clearly on her face and body movements. However, she quickly blocked the pain and went back into battle without another look at Gabrielle. Gabrielle could only watch with tears in her eyes as Xena walked away from her. There was nothing she could do to stop her. She could only try to defend her if she got seriously hurt.
Ares and Gaelen were in the middle of trading punches, when out of nowhere there heard the Xena war cry. They looked up in time to see a pair of bare feet, o. One landing in Gaelen’s face, the other in Ares’. They both fell the ground, surprised.
"Xena!" Ares protested angrily, getting to his feet first. Gaelen rose to his feet as well, his gaze intense as he watched Xena closely.
"Stay out of this, Ares!" Xena shouted, her sword drawn, ready once again to do battle with Gaelen. . "I don’t want your help. This is my fight!"
"Good," Gaelen said with a satisfied grin. "Frankly, Ares was beginning to bore me."
"Pick up your sword, Gaelen," she demanded of him.
"Oh, that’s right," Gaelen said sarcastically, his eyes still on Xena as he stooped to pick up his sword. "We can’t be fighting an unarmed man, can we?" Xena almost didn’t allow Gaelen the chance to pick up his sword before she attacked, her sword meeting his with a clash.
"Fine," Ares said to Xena as he vanished from sight.
Xena spun around, never having heard or saw Ares exit, and caught Gaelen’s sword as he tried to undercut her. Everyone, including Greeger and his soldiers, watched the battle between Xena and Gaelen. Gabrielle returned to Greeger’s side and watched with him. He turned to see her sad, tearful expression and his heart went out to her. "Should we help her?" he asked.
"No. This is her fight. She’s on her own now."
Xena and Gaelen fought with swords for several minutes with Xena constantly gaining the upper hand in the fight, until finally Gaelen had had enough. With one swipe of his hand, Xena’s sword was gone. As it had the first time, the sword seemed to jump from her hand with a life of its own. Only this time, it flew through the air and landed several yards away. Xena turned back to him with her eyes wide. Seeing his arm swing out and thinking he was going to hit her, she attempted to duck, but didn’t get the chance. She suddenly felt his hand closing around her throat, cutting off her air supply. As she choked, she realized that his hand was no where near her throat.
Using his power Gaelen lifted Xena into the air. . She felt her feet leave the ground. Something had found its way into her throat and was constricting itself tighter and tighter. She clutched at her throat to fight it off but there was nothing there to fight. She was being hung by the neck by Aan unseen force was hanging her by the neck. She tried to stay focused and think of what to do, but she started to feel lightheaded.
Gabrielle watched with fear as Gaelen seemed to pick Xena up without even touching her. By the manner in which Xena was holding onto her neck, Gabrielle could tell that she was choking. Somehow, Gaelen was choking her to death. She didn’t know how, but she did know one thing. Having disappeared a while ago, Ares was obviously not going to interfere in any way, so Gabrielle realized she would have to stop him or Xena would die. Gabrielle raised her staff and threw it at Gaelen like a javelin. It caught him in the middle of the back and bounced off. Caught by surprise, it interrupted his control over Xena and she fell to the ground, gasping for air. Gaelen fell to the ground as well, his breath gone from him, pain shooting up and down his spine.
Xena got up onto her knees, grabbed her sword and shuffled over to Gaelen, who was still writhing. She was not going to let him live, no matter what Gabrielle thought of the way she killed him. Xena lifted the sword, but Gaelen unexpectedly stretched out a hand and shot Xena backwards as if she’d been shot from a cannon. Though in terrible pain that he knew had been caused by Gabrielle, Gaelen gotGetting to his feet, he grabbed her once again in mid-air and rocketed her towards the trees. Gabrielle watched in horror as Xena smacked right into a tree.. ("Watch out for that tree!") Gaelen picked her up again and threw her at another tree. Her side slammed up against this one and her ribs exploded with so much pain that Xena screamed. Again, Gaelen grabbed her and began to sling her towards the other side of the clearing when he heard …heard…"Gaelen!"
With still Xena in mid-air, Gaelen turned to see Ares just coming into view. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened when he saw what was in Ares’ hand. It was the power that Ares had stolen from him and combined with his own. His first time to experience abstract fear, Gaelen angrily screamed, "NO!"
"Catch!" Ares said, putting all his force into it and threw the fireball at Gaelen. It radiated a greenish-hue and crackled with mini-lightening bolts. . There was no outrunning it. It hit Gaelen directly in the chest, blowing him backward so fast and so hard, he was gone from where he had stood in less than a second. In that instant, his power over Xena was broken and she began to fall to the ground. Gaelen’s body rocketed back into his tent as though a stiff breeze had just blown in. Just before Xena hit the ground, Ares stopped her descent and laid her gently down, then he disappeared.
Gabrielle ran to her, tears in her eyes and fell on her knees next to Xena’s battered body and sobbed. She looked horrible. The gash over her eyes was bleeding again and fresh bruises had begun to form over the old ones. Gabrielle was not sure she was still alive, so she placed her hand on Xena’s chest to feel for the beating of her heart, and her cheek to her nose to see if Xena was still breathing. Thankfully, she was still alive, but she was still seriously injured. Xena needed a healer, but where would Gabrielle find one? Suddenly Xena opened her eyes and grabbed Gabrielle’s arm, trying to speak.
"Don’t try to speak right now, Xena," Gabrielle sniffled, smoothing the hair from her face. "You’ll be okay. I’ll take care of you." But, Xena continued trying to say something. Her voice barely reached a whisper and Gabrielle could not make it out. . So, she lowered her ear over Xena’s mouth. In a very low, harsh whisper, Gabrielle made out the words, "Make sure he’s dead." With that Xena passed out as Gabrielle stared down at her with troubled eyes.
Inside the tent, Ares flashed into existence. He stared down at the body on the ground and shook his head. "Tsk. Tsk. What a sorry end this is for you. And to think you thought you could best a god. I pity you. You and I together could have made a perfect team, an indestructible force. But, no, you thought you could gain that status on your own. Not here you can’t."
Ares stared down at the body on the floor, which could scarcely look back up at him. Gaelen couldn’t speak and could barely move. His body still crackled with electricity. Ares watched Gaelen’s hand, which had rested at his side, slowly work its way to his belt. He fumbled with a small triangular object finally working it free.
"That’s right," Ares" Ares said smugly. "Go back to where it is that you came from and don’t come back. If you do, you’ll have me to contend with. There’s enough filth on this earth without having deal with you as well. Have a nice trip." With that, Ares faded in a spectrum of light.
Gabrielle summoned Greeger and they both went to the tent. Cautiously, Greeger sidled up to the tent’s entrance with Gabrielle close behind, staff in hand. Greeger pulled the tent cloth aside and peeked inside. Instantly, and to Gabrielle’s surprise, Greeger pulled away and backed up. He looked white.
"What is it?" she asked nervously.
"See for yourself."
Gabrielle looked at the tent entrance, then back at Greeger. "Is it safe?"
"Perfectly," he said, the pale shock on his face slowly turning to anger and frustration. Still hesitant, Gabrielle pushed aside the tent cloths and entered the tent carefully. She stood stock-still at the sight before her. Gaelen was gone. Furniture was knocked around and there was a skid pattern on the ground, indicating where he had come to a complete stop, but he was nowhere to be seen. She heard Greeger enter behind her.
"He’s gone," she said, shocked.
"Yeah, I figured that one out all ready."
"But where? Where did he go? Where could he have gone?"
"All good questions, Gabrielle. Unfortunately, I can’t answer a one."
"Xena’s not going to like this," she said, with a grimmacegrimace.
"No, I can’t imagine anybody liking this. If he’s still alive…"
Gabrielle turned to him with wide eyes. "Don’t say that. He can’t be. Not after what we saw happen to him. No one could survive that."
"You’re forgetting, he’s not just anybody. He’s definitely not like you and me." With a huff he turned and walked out of the tent, leaving Gabrielle alone.
Gabrielle turned back to the tent and looked around. On the ground was the shape Gaelen’s body had made in the dirt floor. She remembered the last evening, when she had struck a nerve telling him that no child was born with the evil existing in his heart. . She’d implied that his mother and father had been killed, and causing him to feel such evil for other people. Something in what she said had clicked, made him remember some deep, dark part of his past that he desperately wanted to avoid bringing back to mind. Perhaps like Xena and Callisto, he’d suffered a troubled childhood, triggering his evil revenge. A part of her asked, "Why do you want to find cause for what he does? He’s evil. That’s all you need to know." Another part of her recalled what she had told Xena some time back, "If I believe that, how could I ever forgive him?" Gabrielle felt pain for herself, for Xena and she even felt pain for whatever may have happened to Gaelen at some point in his life. She knelt toand touched the ground where his body had been when a spark of leftover energy reached up from the ground and zapped at her hand, causing her to gasp and recoil in fear. The fear rose up into Gabrielle’s heart and she quickly left the tent.
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